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U.S. Negotiator ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ Griner Will Be Released By Year’s End

Former governor Bill Richardson and diplomat expressed his confidence that Brittney Griner, an American basketball player, would be freed from Russian detention before the end the year.

In an interview on CNN, Richardson said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the release of both Griner and Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who has been held in Russian prison since 2018 on espionage charges.

“I do think so. Now, I hate making predictions, but yes,” Richardson said when asked whether the two Americans will be released before the end of 2022.

Richardson has vast experience in negotiating for hostages’ families and their detainees.

“I know (the families are) very emotional and this is a very emotional time. All I can say is that the Biden administration is working hard on it,” Richardson said Sunday on CNN. “So am I. While we cooperate, our tactical decisions may not always be the same. But I’m not going to interfere in their process. I’m just giving you my assessment after two visits to Russia on behalf of American hostages.”

Griner was a star player for the Phoenix Mercury, WNBA.

Griner was convicted and sentenced to nine year imprisonment by a Russian Court in August.

A hearing was scheduled for October 25. She intends to appeal her conviction.

The U.S. considers both Griner and Whelan to be “wrongfully detained.” The Biden administration has negotiated a prisoner swap with Moscow, with the U.S. offering to release Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, in exchange for the release of Griner and Whelan.

Russia has apparently rejected this offer.

Richardson said Sunday that the Russians might be open to an agreement.

“I got the sense that the Russian officials that I met with, that I’ve known over the years, are ready to talk,” Richardson said on CNN. “I got a good sense from the Russians – the vibrations – but I’m not a government official.”

“I’m not part of the government, the government channel. I’ve always made that clear. This is what I believe. Any decision to release a person or exchange prisoners must be made by President. And I think the administration has done a good job on that,” Richardson added.

Last month, President Joe Biden visited Griner’s and Whelan’s families.

“He wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day, on making sure that Brittney and Paul return home safely,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at the time.

Biden sharply condemned Russia following Griner’s conviction in August.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” Biden said in his statement at the time.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”

“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he added.